Collaborative working on the future of Wales’ uplands the key to its enduring legacy

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Thinking differently and working collaboratively should be the key drivers towards delivering a strong and resilient upland landscape for Wales’ future generations

That will be the message from Chief Executive of Natural Resources Wales (NRW) Clare Pillman when she takes to the virtual stage to address delegates on the opening day of the Environment Evidence 2020 conference on Monday.

The event, hosted by Environment Platform Wales, will explore the theme of resilience in the Welsh uplands with a particular focus on what the next decade holds for the landscape from a range of environmental, social and economic perspectives. It will bring together stakeholders from across the public, private and third sectors to discuss the challenges and opportunities and explore how the latest research can help shape the policies of the future.

Delivering the keynote address on day one of the conference, Clare Pillman will say:

Wales’ upland environment means so many different things to so many, evolving over centuries of our interaction with nature.
From food sources to clean water supplies, thousands of people depend on these landscapes to sustain our way of life. Sustainable management of the uplands and their habitats can help to mitigate flood risk and provide the essential support systems of a range of wildlife. They are the places where people flock to live and to work and, as we’ve seen over recent weeks, they are also the places people have come to escape and to enjoy as lockdown restrictions have eased.
However, the environment, and the vital benefits and services it provides, is under pressure – from climate change, from Brexit, from changing social and economic circumstances, and from the impacts of unsustainable use.
The challenges, but also the opportunities that the uplands face over the coming decade are likely to be greater than anything we’ve experienced over the last century. That is why I hope the discussions we will be having this week will enable us to think and to act differently and encourage us to be braver in our aspirations for how we manage our uplands in the future.

It is estimated that 80% of the Welsh environment is classed as uplands, spanning National Parks, high grasslands, blanket bogs and heathland, and reaching right up to rocky mountain tops.

These landscapes have faced many challenges over the years, but the rate of change expected by the impacts of the UK’s departure from the EU and the inevitable effects of climate change is likely to accelerate.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has also severely disrupted the work of organisations who are vital to the protection of nature and the landscapes of Wales.

Yet many of the key policy building blocks to help address these challenges are already in place.

The existing legislation Wales in the form of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and the and Environment Acts are intended to ensure the well-being of Wales’ citizens now and in the future. They will help Wales to meet its commitment to sustainable development, which will also include how land in Wales can be managed.

As part of the requirements of the Environment Act, NRW will publish its second report on the state of our Natural Resources in Wales later this year. This will be an evidence-based report focussed on the quality of our rivers and seas, the air that we breathe, the value of our soil and forests and the richness of plants, animals and insects.

Wales is the only country in Europe that does this environmental stock-take, and it provides powerful evidence to guide our future path.

NRW has also been at the heart of developing a series of innovative Area Statements covering seven separate yet hugely diverse parts of the country. Each Area Statement outlines the key challenges facing that particular locality, what we can all do to meet those challenges, and how we can better manage our natural resources for the benefit of future generations.

Chair of NRW, Sir David Henshaw has also been asked by the Minister for the Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffith MS to chair a Green Recovery task and finish group, which aims to drive practical action to ensure that Wales emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic stronger, greener and fairer.

Clare Pillman added:

From Brexit to climate change, the future of the uplands in Wales depends on many different but interrelated issues and we need to take a holistic approach to tackling the challenges and seizing the opportunities ahead..
Above all however, there is a need for land managers, conservationists, policymakers and researchers to work together to find the solutions and to capitalise on the opportunities. There will need to be strong focus on appropriate scientific research, effective policymaking and creative land management.
Because while the challenges are great, they are not insurmountable. Collaborative working will be the key to tackling the challenges and deliver the opportunities for the Welsh uplands to ensure they can be sustainable, healthy and resilient for generations to come.
So my challenge to those attending the conference this week is to think about what we in Wales can do to adapt and indeed embrace the changes and to be braver in how the decisions we make about land use and management today so we can help secure a future for our environment, and all those who depend on it.